Friedrich Hayek described it as “one of the greatest instruments of freedom ever invented by men”. The sociologist Georg Simmel noted that it “means more to us than any other object of possession because it obeys us without reservation”. Yet if some marketing gurus are to be believed, its pre-eminent position in the psychology of consumers is on the wane. The object in question is money. It is not just the lending of money that is in crisis. A variety of business models are emerging which look set to challenge the previously unquestioned role of monetary prices in the relationship between retailers and consumers. Where products are intangible or experiential in nature, it is these models that look set to survive the current bout of creative destruction sweeping the high street. The eyeballs of London commuters are now fought over by the distributors of free newspapers, London Lite and Thelondonpaper. Radiohead released their highly acclaimed album In Rainbows, on a pay-what-you-want basis via their website. Michael O’Leary of Ryanair has said that his goal is to offer all flights for free in the future. Google terrifies various publishing and software industries by making free what was previously sold, probing the limits of copyright. Examples such as these have led Chris Anderson, business guru and editor of Wired magazine, to declare that “$0.00 is the future of business”.
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